The appeal of the Bake Off

What is it about a small baking show that started life on BBC2 that has captured the imagination of a nation? Season 6 ended yesterday in an emotional finale that saw the most deserving candidate win because of her originality, flair and flawless bakes rather than her colour, appearance or ethnicity. But more on that later.

In the beginning there was Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood and ten home bakers. The format was a simple pitting of these bakers against each other in increasingly complicated challenges that displayed their technical skills, their baking know how and their grace under fire. As they were whittled from ten to four to three, the viewers were taken through a baking journey that encompassed the history and the origin of a lot of the breads, cakes and pastries prepared on screen. There was an innocence and a sweetness to it all. No cut throat rivals that tried sabotaging each other in an attempt to further themselves. This was no Apprentice. It was good, wholesome family viewing and Britain promptly fell in love with it.

As GBBO gathered pace and viewers, some of that early innocence fell away. Sue and Mel went from gently bickering hosts to lacing nearly every sentence with sexual innuendo, Paul went from being mildly snarky to positively vitriolic at times, and even gentle Mary (the surprise fashionista) had her grumpy moments. Despite all this and a few lack lustre seasons, GBBO went from strength to strength.

Some of the participants went on to have stellar careers in the food industry, making it an entirely viable entry point for people who harboured dreams but didn’t quite know how to get a foot in the door. Others went back to their day jobs with an extra feather in their caps, and some pretty impressive skills honed to competition level. Sugar, flour and eggs made minor celebrities of most.

Which brings us to this year’s season- my favourite thus far. It started in its usual fashion, introducing us to a cross section of bakers from different regions and different walks of life, with one overriding passion- Baking. One by one they fell. Either their signature bakes didn’t translate, or they were stumped by the technical challenge or their show stopper didn’t elicit enough ‘wows’. Soufflés that didn’t rise, biscuits that crumbled, a ganache that didn’t shine were veritable tragedies that produced tears from the manliest of men. A gentle rebuke from Mary could deflate the over confident, while the famous Hollywood handshake could bolster the shakiest.

Of the three finalists, Ian emerged an early front runner. His experimental flavour combinations and use of herbs, had him win star baker three times. Tamal seemed the coolest of them all. This trainee anaesthetist let little ruffle his feathers. His aplomb saw him show case a variety of fine bakes. Nadiya, on the other hand, was all over the place. Here was the classic ‘little woman’, a wife and a mother who loved baking, and did daily, for her three children. Passionate, emotional, vociferous. It was easy to dismiss her early on as a fluke who had little self belief, and who would probably not make the quarter finals, let alone the finals. Well.

A hijab wearing, Bangladeshi woman who could bake?

Even as she sobbed, incoherently joyous in her victory, Nadiya embodied the best of the British. Her quirkiness, her self deprecating humour, her willingness to learn, her readiness to help,her sense of fair play, her slowly strengthening resolve, her steadily increasing confidence were all indicative of this melting pot of a nation that recognises and rewards hard work and perseverance. That embraces and absorbs and makes its own the various cultures, languages and foods that immigrants bring along, when they leave their own lands in search of economic security or personal safety.

A hijab wearing, Bangladeshi woman won GBBO season 6. What a fitting finale to something so uniquely British.


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